Bringing a Positive Lens to Workplace Mental Health

As employers deepen their focus on mental health, many may still be missing one of the most important conversations: the positive one

December 9, 2021
Woman and man discussing mental health

As employers deepen their focus on mental health, many may still be missing one of the most important conversations in this space: the positive one. While addressing stress, burnout, and mental illness is critically important, flipping our lens to promoting well-being can highlight new opportunities to move forward. Organizations should ask the question: How can we make the workplace a center for the resources, skills and connections that workers need to thrive? Beyond avoiding negative impacts, how can work proactively help employees improve their well-being?

There are a range of strategies that can help build out this approach — with proven benefits for both workers and businesses. In one study, a team that participated in a weekly mindfulness training was significantly more creative and collaborative than a control group. Neurodiverse teams — made up of people with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and other conditions — have achieved higher levels of productivity and developed innovative solutions to challenging technical problems. And surveys have found that employees feel more loyal if their organization proactively supports mental well-being.

These actions are just as important as avoiding productivity losses, workforce exits and other negative impacts. Yet business discussions too often focus on mitigating these losses, rather than realizing new benefits. For senior leaders, HR professionals and frontline managers, the challenge is to fundamentally reframe mental health as a driver of collaboration, creativity and contributions for all employees, not just a problem to be solved for a few.

To achieve this shift, employers can focus on supporting what workers want to get out of their job, career and work environment. Three opportunities are key:

Empower Employees With Opportunities for Learning and Purpose

Employees want to make a difference in a fulfilling job, where their contributions are aligned with a larger purpose. Providing training and learning opportunities not only fuels employee performance and thereby company performance, but also boosts employee motivation and engagement. When employees feel they are advancing professionally and personally, they have greater reason to stay with their employer and make meaningful contributions to their teams.

This is only growing more important for the next generation of talent. Gen Z workers say a company’s impact on the world is a major factor in their employment decisions, and 91% say professional development opportunities are an important factor. To win over these younger workers, employers must provide the opportunities they want to grow, develop and see their contributions recognized.

Enable Connection and Collaboration

Now more than ever, employees are craving connection. The Slack Future of Work Study reports that more than 90% of workers want to feel closer to their colleagues. Emotional and social growth opportunities are as much a part of employee empowerment as professional development opportunities. And these relationships can build better collaboration, communication and trust within the company.

Employers can establish mentorship programs, employee resource groups, workplace social opportunities and other frameworks for these kinds of connections. While connection may be more challenging with the rise of remote and hybrid work, virtual collaboration tools, “donut” sessions (or other informal, agenda-less get-togethers like one would have in the office kitchen), dedicated in-person collaboration days and other solutions can help to fill the gap. This can contribute to a positive, collaborative work culture and a more engaged workforce, where people feel socially connected and comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.

Provide All Employees With the Tools To Proactively Support Well-Being

Proactive mental health offerings, such as meditation, sleep and fitness programs, can equip all employees with the tools they need for holistic well-being. Rather than focusing just on employees with mental illness or facing mental health challenges like stress or anxiety, this approach makes mental health a priority for the entire workforce. It can deliver benefits not only by helping employees avoid a mental health crisis, but also by empowering them to create, contribute and collaborate in a sustainable way.

This more positive, proactive approach to workplace mental health provides a path forward, especially as organizations look to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and refine new ways of working. By striving to make work and the workplace a net-positive for employee wellness, organizations can offer people a more compelling employment proposition and a more effective working environment. Change the conversation and culture so that everyone can bring their “whole self” to work and provide the resources and programs to become their “best selves” while at work!

Source: Forbes.com. Link to original article at Forbes here: Bringing a Positive Lens to Workplace Mental Health (forbes.com).

Author: Garen Staglin, contributor, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; co-founder and chairman of One Mind at Work.

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